The Lazy Farmer


An Abundance of Cherry Tomatoes

 

 Blog17  truss of tomatoes

Its late summer and tomatoes fill the kitchen.  Every morning we bring in another 1/2 bushel of large varieties and a large bucket of cherry and grape tomatoes.  We started growing the small varieties because they are our favorite summer snack.  A crystal bowl filled with mixed gem colored tiny tomatoes sits permanently on our table throughout the season. 

It is easy to think of ways to preserve the larger tomatoes.  Jars of tomato basil soup, spaghetti sauce, bruschetta, salsas, diced tomatoes, and tomato jam all line my canning room shelves.  Dried and powdered paste tomatoes wait quietly to be rehydrated into sauce and soups.

But what can you do with so many small tomatoes once you’ve snacked on all you can eat?  Our answer involves two recipes that bring summer bursting forth in the kitchen in the dead of winter.  We roast huge amounts of the cherry tomatoes, freeze them, and then incorporate them into Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese for a quick winter meal with warm crusty bread. 

Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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  • Cherry, or grape, tomatoes: halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive oil

On a parchment lined baking sheet, place tomato halves cut side up so they just touch each other.  Fill the sheet completely full.  Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake at 250 degrees for two hours.  Store in airtight bags or tubs and place in freezer until needed.  We store them in 2-cup portions.

Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

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  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6-8 ounces herbed goat cheese
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 cups roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid
  • 1 tsp. good olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot bring the water, broth, and salt to a boil.  Cook the pasta in the liquid and then reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid.  Then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.  Add reserved liquid, goat cheese, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Toss well and serve immediately.

By saving summer cherry tomatoes this way, and growing a pot of basil in a sunny window in the house, you can surprise your family with the taste summer whenever you wish.  There are other ways to use those roasted cherry tomatoes as well, so don’t limit your little gems to summertime.

  • To top pizzas
  • In grilled cheese or tuna sandwiches
  • On toasties with cream cheese
  • In omelets and frittatas
  • In risotto
  • With bread salad

Dehydrating excess cherry tomatoes is another way to preserve them.  Cut them in half and place in your dehydrator at 135 degrees.  Run the machine for 8-10 hours until the tomatoes are dry yet pliable.  Keep them in a freezer safe bag for wonderful wintertime snacks.  They are also delicious tossed with pastas and cream sauce, thrown into soups and stews for bursts of flavor, or added to sandwiches for a tasty crunch.

 Blog17  sungold tomatoes

So go ahead and plant those cherry tomato plants with abandon!  Plant 5, or 10, or 20.  You’ll know what to do with all the excess.  You’ll be oven roasting and dehydrating this summer and you’ll be enjoying your own little tomatoes right up until next year’s harvest.  We plant multiples of Cherry Roma, Sugar Cherry, Green Doctors, Black Cherry, Napa Chardonnay, Sunrise Bumblebee, and Sungold cherry tomatoes.  These create colorful dried tomatoes to enjoy later in the year, and they are some of the best tasting ones we’ve found for fresh snacking.  What will you plant this year?

Tantalizing Tomatoes

I have a confession to make.  I’m an unrepentant addict.  My addiction is tomatoes:  little ones, big ones, ugly ones, pretty ones, red, yellow, green, or pink.  I’m rather indiscriminate, except when it comes to taste.  And I don’t think I’m alone.  Admit it!  Aren’t tomatoes the main reason you garden?  Beginning in very late June, right up through October, I can be found in the garden with tomato juice dripping down my chin. 

 Blog16  heirloom tomatoes

After that the tomatoes we’ve “put up” continue to feed my cravings for many months.  Jar after jar of tomato basil soup, colorful diced tomatoes, and spaghetti sauce line my canning room shelves.  Sealed tubs of dehydrated tomato slices line the counter, and packets of roasted cherry tomatoes fill the freezer.  Jars of spicy tomato jam and peach/tomato/pepper salsa wait patiently to perk up our winter meals.

I regularly grow 25-30 tomato plants a year for our family of three which may seem excessive until you know that we all happily eat tomatoes all day long.  A big bowl of mixed cherry tomatoes shines like jewels on our table throughout the summer and is always empty by evening.  I’m never done trying new tomato recipes for dinner.  New tomatoes always sneak into my seed orders and get planted out in the garden.

cherry tomatoes 1

So how do I choose which tomatoes to plant?  Descriptions in catalogs are hard to judge by.  They can’t all be the “largest, juiciest, best tasting, most popular” tomatoes on the planet.  You need to identify what is most important for you and your garden.  Then you need to try lots of tomatoes!  In the early days of our garden we went to harvest festivals and tomato tastings to try lots of varieties.  I read voraciously in books like Amy Goldman’s Heirloom Tomatoes, and Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier.  Since then we just keep trying tomatoes that are new to us while hanging on to the ones we know we love. 

The things we’ve decided are important to our family include:

  • Taste, taste, taste! We like most of our tomatoes to strike a balance of sweetness and acidity, and to have complex flavor profiles.  We love the smokiness of black tomatoes, and the surprise of citrus undertones in some of the bi-color or yellow tomatoes.
  • A variety of colors and flavors in small cherry and grape tomatoes to keep that bowl on the table full each day
  • A steady variety of tomatoes ripening together so that our tomato basil soup is a complex and tasteful work of art impossible to duplicate from batch to batch.
  • Early tomatoes to get a jump on the season along with ones that take a little longer to start production but weather the period from late summer into fall more reliably.
  • And, with one notable exception, open pollinated tomatoes from which we can save our own seed and develop lines that thrive in our particular garden.

multicolored tomatoes

I used to make and can tomato sauce, which effected which types of tomatoes I grew.  But I’ve since started dehydrating tomato slices in large quantities, which expands the tomato varieties you can then turn back into sauce with a little water and an immersion wand.  Because of this only a few of the tomato plants I grow each year are actually paste or sauce types anymore.

  • Amish Paste is a large, meaty, full flavored tomato good for sauce or paste.
  • Opalka is rich flavored, sweet and slightly smoky, great for roasting or sauces
  • Cour di Bui, with its true tomato taste, is a meaty pink tomato great for dehydrating

Salad tomatoes are small at 2-4 ounces and tend to produce early giving me that first “fix” of the season eaten out of hand or on salads.  Our two favorite are:

  • Juane Flamme, a beautiful orange jewel that is sweet and fruity
  • Green Zebra which is sweet yet zingy with green-on-green stripes

Our favorite early season tomatoes include:

  • Cherokee Chocolate which is a more stable selection of Cherokee Purple
  • Pink Berkeley Tie Dye’s taste is superb and it’s the tomato that caused my addiction!
  • Rebekah Allen has a nice sweet/tart balance and is our earliest producer.

My huge beefsteak tomatoes are in full swing by mid-summer, cranking out an abundance of color and flavor that combine into the most interesting meals imaginable.  African Queen and Red Rose are our red/pink giants, Carbon’s deep flavor beats the socks off of many other black tomatoes, and Hawaiian Pineapple has a fruity citrus flavor that is amazing.  Green Giant was a new find last year and has converted me back to at least this one green beefsteak.  And after almost giving up on Lillian’s Yellow to come into production it proved well worth the wait with the best flavor of any pure yellow we’ve ever tried.  We even had to put away the touch of salt on these last two beauties as it masked their natural flavor too much when eaten fresh.

cherry tomatoes 3

And what about the bowl of tomato gems that grace the table?  After years of trial and error, we’ve narrowed the selection down to Cherry Roma, Sugar Cherry, Black Cherry, Napa Chardonnay, Sunrise Bumblebee, and Sungold (the only hybrid tomato we grow).  Why a hybrid?  Sungold quite simply has the brightest and most interesting flavor profile of any cherry tomato we’ve ever tried.  There are many open pollinated selections of this tomato, but we’ve found them to be either inconsistent, unstable, or just not up to the original in flavor.

What tomatoes are making your list of favorites?  Why do you like them, and how do you use them?

Sunny Floral Desserts

I’ve told you that edible flowers are so much more versatile in the kitchen than just used in desserts.  They are.  But they also make incredible, mouth-watering desserts!  The main thing to remember is that edible flowers can be important ingredients in your dessert concoctions, not just decorations.  While candied violets are lovely, they are just the icing on the cake of what you can bake up in the kitchen with edible flowers.

Consider making a citrusy marigold cake spread with sweet floral butter.  Lemon balm and calendula combine in a sunny tea cake.  And who can resist frosted lemon lavender cookies!  Lavender pairs well with chocolate as well.  Add dried lavender buds to your chocolate cupcakes. Try anise hyssop flowers in your next pound cake instead of poppy seeds for a flavor between licorice and root beer.

Blog15  marigold and calendula cake

The perfect topping to just about any dessert is floral ice cream, gelato, or sorbet.  To flavor these chilly desserts use some of the following petals steeped in the cream or sugar syrup:

  • Gardenias
  • Lavender
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Roses
  • Chocolate Mint
  • Hibiscus

Marigold Cake

  • 1 cup softened unsalted butter             
  • 1 cup sugar                                        
  • 4 eggs, beaten     
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Tangerine Gem Marigold petals
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour                      
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder    
  • Zest from one orange
  • Zest from one lemon

Grease and flour a loaf pan.  Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy; add beaten eggs a little at a time.  Sift the flour and baking powder; fold into creamed mixture.  Add the orange and lemon zest, and the marigold petals.  Spoon into the loaf pan and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for an hour.  Cool on rack for 5 minutes, then remove from tin and cool completely before serving.  Serve slices spread with sweet floral butters — see suggestions below.

Blog15  sweet floral butter

Sweet Floral Butter Combinations

Start with 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened

Add in any of the following combinations:

  • Rose petal chiffonade, minced crystalized ginger, Red Clover petals, honey
  • Lilac petals, Red bud petals, honey, vanilla paste
  • Japanese honeysuckle petals, apple blossoms, honey

Lemon Balm Tea Cake

  • 3/4 cup milk             
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon balm leaves and flowers 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour                                                     
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened            
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh calendula petals

In small pan, heat milk and lemon balm until almost scalded.  Remove from heat and cool.  Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, continuing beating.  Blend in the lemon zests.  Strain the lemon balm milk, discard the leaves and flowers, and add the milk and flour mixtures alternately to the batter.  Mix until just blended.  Pour the batter into a grease and floured loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for about an hour.  Meanwhile mix the lemon glaze (below) and set aside.  Cool baked cake in pan for 5 minutes, remove onto a wire rack placed over a cookie sheet.  Pour lemon glaze over cake while it is hot.

Lemon Glaze for Tea Cake: Put juice of two lemons, 1 teaspoon of calendula leaves (chopped), and 1 teaspoon of rose petals (chiffonade) into a bowl.  Blend in powdered sugar until a thick, but pour-able paste forms.

For more recipes go to BouquetBanquet and look at the blog and recipe pages.  Let us know what new concoctions you make with edible flowers and we’ll share them in one of our blogs.

Taking Time to Enjoy Your Gardens

What drives you?  What passions prod you into the garden as the sun rises?  What responsibilities keep you hoeing and harvesting into the evening hours?  Are you growing much of the vegetables your family will eat, creating a healthier diet for your children, or recapturing childhood taste memories?  Do flowers captivate you?  Are you working towards having a rose bed like your grandmother’s or a peaceful garden in which to wander?  What is the connection between you and your soil?

Blog14  pergola garden bench 

Mine began as a mid-life dream to escape the city and a life-long dream to put down roots.  A new rear-tined rototiller and five acres on which to play gave me vegetable gardens and flower beds in profusion.  Much like a child, my eyes were frequently bigger than my resources.  “Small” flower plots I created visually with the tiller turned out to be massive when it came time to put in the plants.  In the early days, I often resorted to planting watermelon between the tiny shrubs I could afford because the vines quickly covered the bare dirt to create a living mulch.

As I sought to grow the majority of the vegetables we ate, my initial food gardens continued to expand.  Curiosity compelled me to plant a myriad of vegetables I’d never heard of.  That led to fascinating experimentation in the kitchen.  When upkeep of the gardens took too much effort I turned to no-till gardens and permanent mulching so I could keep adding to my growing space without more work.

Working in the gardens rarely feels like actual work to me because it is my favorite place to be.  Watching things grow, tending to plants that sustain us physically and emotionally, this is a deep pleasure for me.  And yet there are days in which the weeds or rampant honeysuckle threaten to bury me in responsibility instead of the mental relaxation I sought from spending time on the land. 

 Blog14  garden swing

It is important to take time to sit and enjoy your gardens, be they floral, vegetal, or both.  Design comfortable seating throughout your gardens so that momentary breaks are as easy as planned days of relaxation.  I have a covered swing in front of my edible flower garden that overlooks the vegetable gardens as well as many of the flower beds.  For years we had a rustic bench in the middle of our miniature orchard.  The weather finally deteriorated it, and later plantings took its spot.  I do miss it.  We have a 200 year old black walnut at the back of our pasture that overlooks the sheep and the wild wineberry patches.  It is a lovely shaded place to relax or nap in the heat of summer.  Our front porch rockers look out over massive iris gardens, peonies, day lilies, weigela, lilacs, and snowball bushes.  The deck seats rise beside butterfly bushes and give us a panoramic view of the chickens, sheep, vineyard, and vegetable gardens.  Trees and large shrubs near all the seating bring in birds of many kinds to add their music to our quiet times.  My newest, and most restful spot, is transient.  It is a sturdy hammock on a stand that I drag around to wherever I want to take a quick nap.

 Blog14  garden hammock

Do I take breaks to enjoy the garden as often as I’d like?  No.  But I try to take some time each week to while away some time just soaking in the beauty and fragrance of everything we’ve planted.  I’ve also learned that inviting a friend over for a cup of coffee is a great excuse to spend an hour on a swing while reaping the emotional rewards of the gardens and of friendship.  Where are your favorite resting places in your gardens?

Edible Flowers of Summer

If you enjoyed the post Edible Flowers of Spring, then you’ll love learning about all the wonderful edible flowers of summer and how to use them in your kitchen.  Elegant day lilies, sunny squash blossoms, and graceful gladiolas take center stage in summer.  You can add crunchy texture, interesting vegetable flavors, and a rainbow of color to your meals.  Wow your friends with outstanding presentations and bold new taste combinations.  Here are just a few of the many edible flowers of summer that you should try.  For information on more flowers visit BouquetBanquet where you can also find additional recipes to try out in your kitchen.

Blog12  Daylily Bleu Cheese Salad

Anise Hyssop  Agstache foeniculum

Leaves and tiny petals have a flavor between anise and root beer that is pleasant used sparingly in both sweet and savory dishes.  We use it in ice cream, beef stir fry, chicken marinade, salad dressing, and pound cake.

Clover  Trifolium pratense

Clovers, particularly red clover, have a sweet, anise-like taste and are wonderful sprinkled on desserts, tossed in fruit or green salads, or used in teas.

Calendula  Calendula officinalis

These petals have a slightly bitter taste and are used primarily for color.  We remove the petals from the flower head and toss them in rice pilafs, on top of soups, or in omelets.

Day Lilies  Hemerocallis fulva

The buds and flowers of day lilies vary in taste from sweetly floral to beany, depending on variety.  Make them into a salad, stuff them with soft cheeses or ice cream, add them to casseroles, or chop them for salads.  CAUTION:  Only day lilies are edible.

Gladiolus  Gladiolus spp.

We like their mild, lettuce-like taste and texture and use them as a salad base, or stuff them with soft cheeses or sorbet.  They make a delightful presentation.

Hibiscus (red roselle) Hibiscus rosasinensis

The cranberry-lemon taste of the calyxes make a unique and tasty sauce or jelly, while the flowers can be used fresh or dried to make a kind of red lemonade.  Steep the flowers in hot water with mint and some ginger to make a wonderful hot tea, or chop the petals and decorate frozen desserts with them.

Lavender  Lavandula angustifolia

A strong lemony perfume taste comes from both the petals and leaves - it doesn't take many to get the flavor.  We like to steep them for jelly, ice cream, and crème brulee.  Lavender works well in sweet and savory dishes from cookies to grilled meats.

Nasturtiums  Tropaeolum majus

This flower is stunningly pretty, varied in color, and has a great, peppery taste found in both the leaves and flowers.  We use nasturtiums in butters and soft cheeses, oils and vinegars, sandwiches and salads.  We stuff whole flowers and serve them on toast pieces, and you can even pickle the immature seed pods to use as you would capers.

Okra flowers  Abelmoschus aesculentus

The flowers of this plant are beautiful and look like small hibiscus flowers.  They have a somewhat indescribable "vegetable" taste.  We use them in salads and in tossed into vegetable stir fries.

Runner Beans  Phaseolus coccineus

These flowers have a sweet bean/pea taste and a crunchy texture.  We like them atop soups, in sandwiches and tossed in green salads.

Squash Blossoms  Cucurbita spp.

The slightly sweet nectar taste of these flowers tastes wonderful stuffed with soft cheeses.  We also keep the stems on them, dip them in tempura and fry them.  They are good sliced and used in cream soups, soufflés, or omelets, and we like to sprinkle them - chopped- on pasta dishes.

Sunflower Helianthus annuus

Young flower buds can be steamed and served like globe artichokes. The leaf petioles can be boiled and mixed in with other vegetables. Flower petals can be used to make tea.

Herb Flowers

The flowers of all edible herbs are also edible.  We use the savory ones with savory dishes, the mints in Thai cooking or on fruit salads, and the sweet ones on desserts.  Chocolate mint is particularly delicious served with watermelon.

Day Lily Blue Cheese Salad Recipe

  • Whole day lilies with stems and stamens removed (3 lilies per serving)
  • Blue cheese, crumbled
  • Garden fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Carrots, cut into thin matchsticks
  • Flower vinaigrette

On each individual serving plate, place three day lilies and gently spread out their petals so that they remain whole yet overlap each other.  Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese and matchstick carrots over the day lilies.  Top with halved cherry tomatoes.  Serve with your favorite flower vinaigrette.

Blog12  Floral Appetizers

Edible Flower Appetizers

  • Softened cream cheese
  • Crusty bread sliced thin, toasted rustic bread, or crackers
  • Flower petals, chopped fine (possibilities include runner beans, herb flowers and herbs, calendulas, roses, nasturtiums, violets, and many others)
  • Whole edible flowers

Blend the flower petals and any herbs into the cream cheese.  Put in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to meld.  Serve on bread or toasties and top with whole edible flowers.

Garden to Table: Spring Treats

I’m sheltering in place this spring, more from the weather than the pandemic this Mother’s Day.  The polar vortex came swirling southward this week bringing us freezing temperatures and worries over which vegetables and flowers will survive.

 It hasn’t been this cold in May in the mid-Atlantic in a long time.  We hit 33 degrees last night and are headed for more cold in the next few days.  That’s in a month when we typically see nights from 40-50 degrees and daytime temperatures in the 60-80 range.  Which is what was happening in late March and April – highly unusual for those months.  I was lulled into complacency and I planted my tomato seedlings two weeks ago.  This week will be fraught with anxieties as I cover each plant with pots and blankets, try to time the removal each morning after it is warm enough but not cooking the plants yet.  27 out of 29 tomato plants survived the first frigid night, and then two more of them succumbed to wind damage as 30 mph gusts ripped through the farm.  It’s turning out to be a very interesting year!

As I sit here snuggled up in my fleece and slippers, it’s difficult to remember that it is truly spring.  Yet our table shows the reality as overwintered Swiss chard, kale, and cabbage make their way into meals.  I’ve harvested most of my early radishes already, and new asparagus spears knife their way out of the ground daily.  Green garlic adds umph to many dishes, while the last of the tulip salads ended a week ago.  Dandelion fritters and wild sorrel soup fill my foraging thoughts this time of year.  Visit BouquetBanquet to find some ideas on using spring flowers in your meals.  While I wait for the snap peas flowers to turn into pods, and the spring cabbages to head up, I’m starting to think of more recipes to bring the garden goodness to our table. 

 Blog11  another spring salad

Here are a few dishes for you to try as you wait for your summer garden to swing into production.  Spring can be such a neglected time of year in the garden as people wait for consistent warmth to start planting.  Step away from the crowd and start your garden early each year so you can try these delightful recipes.

Wood Sorrel Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 4 cups wood sorrel (leaves, flowers, and tender stems)
  • salt
  • 3 T. flour
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup cream

Instructions

Melt 3 T. butter in a pot on medium.  Add the onions, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring stock to a simmer in another pot.   Add the sorrel leaves to the pot with the onions, add a pinch of salt and stir.  When the sorrel is wilted, cover and cook for 10 minutes on medium-low.  Mix in the flour and cook for 3 more minutes.  Whisk in the hot stock and bring to a simmer.  Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks and cream together in a bowl.  Temper it by spooning a little of the hot soup mixture in while whisking the egg/cream mixture.  Do this 3 times to warm the mixture without cooking the eggs.  Now - whisk the egg/cream mixture into the soup and add the final Tablespoon of butter.  Let this cook BELOW A SIMMER for 5 minutes.  Using a stick wand, blend the soup until creamy.  Serve immediately.

Radish Toasts Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 baquette
  • Butter, softened
  • Large spring radishes
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

Slice the baquette thinly and toast lightly in the oven.  Slice the radishes thinly as well.

Spread butter on the bread slices, top with a radish slice, salt and pepper.  Eat up…you’ll find it’s hard to stop!

Lemon Parmesan Asparagus Salad Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Two handfuls spring asparagus, sliced long-wise, very thinly
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 T. fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

Whisk the oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper together.  Place the thinly sliced asparagus and Parmesan in a bowl, pour dressing over-top and toss lightly.  Serve immediately.

Citrusy Spring Peas Recipe with Mint

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups freshly shelled English peas
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Zest of one orange
  • Handful of fresh mint leaves, chiffonade

Instructions 

Cook peas for 4 minutes in 2 quarts boiling water.  Drain well.  In a small bowl, mix melted butter, orange zest, and mint chiffonade.  Pour over peas and toss lightly.  Serve warm.

 Blog11  floral sesame snap peas

Floral Sesame Snap Peas Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups freshly picked snap peas
  • 1/2 cup snap pea flowers
  • 1/2 cup calendula flower petals
  • 1/4 cup dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup light sesame seeds

Instructions

Cook snap peas for 2 minutes in boiling water, drain well.  Cool by running cold water over them in the colander for a moment.  Toss the peas with sesame seeds, calendula petals and snap pea flowers.  Pour sesame oil over everything and toss lightly.  Serve cool.

Iris: The Rainbow Flower

Irises come in every color of the rainbow.  They are versatile plants, having a wide range of uses in the garden.  There is an iris for almost every garden need:  wet or dry, short or tall, spring or fall flowers, as specimen plantings or groupings.  You can have irises in bloom from March through November (and sometimes December) even in zone 6.

 Blog8  iris gardens

There are two main categories of iris:  Beardless and Bearded.  Within the beardless irises several types including those below.  These each have their own cultivation needs, which you can learn more about at Draycott Gardens.

  • Japanese which love water, bloom in July, and have beautiful color patterns
  • Siberian are very graceful with leaves that stay green and lovely throughout the growing season. They bloom in June
  • Louisiana which need lots of water and were the first group of irises to achieve true red color
  • Dutch irises are the only ones that grow from bulbs, and are often used in floral arrangements
  • Flags while pretty are invasively vigorous and can quickly choke waterways
  • Pacific Coast Natives are some of the loveliest irises with beautiful flowers and color patterns but they only grow well in specific areas – hence the name

 Bearded irises are what most people think of when you say you grow iris.  They come in a wide variety of sizes and bloom seasons.  Learn about bearded irises at Iris Hills Farm.

  • Minature Dwarf Bearded Iris bloom in early April and are the smallest bearded irises at less than 8 inches tall
  • Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris range from 8-15 inches and bloom in mid-April to very early May. They are cute and vigorous, filling the garden with color when very little but tulips and daffodils are yet in bloom

There are three types of bearded iris that all grow between 16-27 inches tall:

  • Intermediate Bearded are robust and lovely, blooming in between the dwarf and taller irises
  • Miniature Tall Bearded are graceful with stalks and flowers that are slender and petite, often walking away with awards at iris shows
  • Border Bearded have the same size flowers as the Tall Bearded irises but have shorter stalks
  • Tall Bearded Iris are big, showy, and colorful, growing up to 4 feet tall

 Blog8  My Missus Carter

The most prevalent irises in home gardens are the Tall Bearded Iris.  They originally had droopy falls, a fragile texture, and much smaller flowers.  They only came in purple, white, and yellow.  Due to the vast amount of hybridizing in the iris world since 1930 they now can be found in every color of the rainbow.  The falls have become more and more ruffled while the flowers are bigger, often sporting lacy edges or diamond-like dusting.  The texture of the flowers is more substantial, and the beards have become quite wild, even sporting strange looking appendages called spoons and flounces.

 Blog8  Debras Melody

One of the loveliest advances in bearded iris hybridizing has been rebloom and ever-blooming varieties.  These are flowers that bloom in May, then again in the late summer or fall.  A few even bloom over and over May through November if they receive enough water and fertilizer.  Yet the reblooming varieties are the only ones you need to worry about watering.  In general, bearded irises are very drought tolerant, and have the distinct advantage of being deer resistant.

 Bearded iris can be planted anytime from July-September.  When deciding where to plant bearded iris, remember that the more sun they get, the more they bloom!  They prefer slightly alkaline soil (ph of 7 or more), and need excellent drainage.  Dig a hole deep enough to plant the roots straight down into the hole.  Gently pack in soil, slightly covering the top of the rhizome and firm down.  Rhizomes (this is the nutrient storage package of the iris, similar to bulbs or tubers) need air and sunlight.  Water at planting, and again a few days later.  Then water weekly the first year until summer droughts are over.  After that, let God do the watering as they will withstand weeks of drought by their second year.  Always water in the morning or evening to avoid rot.

 For the lowdown on caring for your bearded irises see Taking Care of Your Irises at Iris Hills Farm.  You should follow the following annual schedule:

  • Clean up dead leaves in early spring and look for tiny bite marks on the leaves which signal borer infestation. If you need to control borers either hand kill or use an insecticide containing imidacloprid.
  • In summer, cut stalks down to the ground (leave the leaves as they are) to keep out rot. Divide any clumps that are more than 5 years old.  If leaf spot (brown spots) are occurring heavily on the leaves you can spray with a fungicide.
  • Clean up the leaves again in the fall and insulate from the cold with a 1/2 inch covering of leaf mold.

Irises are easy to grow, lovely to look at both in the garden and in a vase, and come in intriguing scents and colors.  Plant your own garden rainbow this year and fall in love with irises!

Photos by (top to bottom): Display Gardens at Iris Hills Farm; 'My Missus Carter' by Colin Campbell; 'Debra's Melody' by Colin Campbell







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